Derryn Hinch

On the second last day of the year for the 45th parliament this newly elected senator made a mistake. I’ll admit the novice politician blundered over the backpackers’ tax.

When the government moved to reduce it from 20% to 15%, I should have voted with them. As I wrote here last week, they didn’t have the numbers (because senators David Leyonhjelm and Rod Culleton had deserted them) and they would have lost even with my vote.

But my final 48 hours of the sitting year would have been far more tranquil if I had voted with the government — having supported them at 19% — and gone down with the ship. Then, as I have since told the PM, it would have been their problem to solve and I could have stayed under the radar, still basking in the accolades for supporting the ABCC legislation that triggered the double dissolution. Albeit with tough controversial amendments, which I’ll talk about later.

Instead, I took that Canberra buzzword “compromise” too seriously. On the floor of the Senate I suddenly saw the cause was lost and decided instead to vote with those supporting 10.5%, which I knew could get passed, the fruit and flowers could be picked, and we could all go home with a Christmas present.

I said at a media conference that I didn’t care if it was 10% or 15%. Just get the bleeping thing done.

[Hinch’s Senate Diary: how I was shirt-fronted for defying the govt’s backpacker tax]

I’ve lost some skin over this. It was the most pressure-packed week I have had in my entire life. I’m learning. Starting to believe that whatever doesn’t kill you makes your stronger. At least they all know I will not horse trade.

On the last Insiders for the year, Nick Xenophon said I should be cut some slack as the new pollie on the block and I would learn.

As I tweeted:



I copped it from all sides after the ABCC legislation got passed with my vote — after a swag of Hinch-demanded amendments. Most of it was along the lines that the novice had been hoodwinked by the CFMEU or they had bought me a holiday house or financed my re-election campaign. Not true. Didn’t even buy me a (non-alcoholic) beer.

I even refused to meet with any union bosses in Canberra last week.

The biggest canard being regurgitated by heaps of “expert” commentators was that I had sold out by including a two-year transition period. That figure came from the pen of the PM on a piece of paper that Senator Michaelia Cash then came into his office to witness us both signing.

The best thing I can do now is to pass on the letter I sent to The Australian on Friday after Bob Gott’s fanciful piece. A letter they have not published. I said:

“I have known Robert Gottliebsen for more than 35 years and have admired him, worked with him and enjoyed his financial commentary. But his piece about ‘Union boss outwits Hinch’ (Australian 2.12.) is arrant nonsense. About on par with some loopy theories espoused by Grace Collier.

I negotiated with Michaelia Cash over the ABCC for two months and with the Prime Minister personally this week. They accepted some great amendments including, reluctantly, one which had Labor’s imprimatur on 457 visas. It is a good piece of industrial law. Especially for the subbies over disputed and delayed payments.

[The government triumphantly departs a fake battlefield]

My stumbling block was always retrospectivity. I don’t like retrospective laws. The government wanted to make compliance date from April, 2014, when all they had was draft legislation which was then twice voted down in the Senate. I refused.

My argument was that EBAs negotiated before the new law gained Royal assent should stand, as in any other contract.

When they expired, all new ones had to be code compliant and no rollovers would be allowed.

Minister Cash brought a proposal to me that would give developers — wanting to apply for government contracts worth more than $100 million — nine months ‘transition’ to get their house in order, including apprenticeship programs etc. as well as EBAs.

That did not satisfy my demand for no retrospectivity.

At a private meeting between just me and the Prime Minister he suggested two years. Not me. (So I suppose Noonan outwitted him too). And the sinister November 29, 2018, date wasn’t Noonan’s — it was Turnbull’s.

When I accepted several hours later, I likened it to the PPL bargaining. The government wanted to bring that in on Jan. 1, 2017. I’m holding out for October 1 – so it won’t affect women already pregnant. Likewise, EBAs signed in 2014 would expire in 2016 or 2017. I knew Lend Lease and the CFMEU got cute and signed some expensive new agreements in 2016 but they will be crunched in 2018.

When David Noonan ‘strode into Parliament House this week’, as Bob Gott put it, he wasn’t coming to meet me. Forget the ‘gatekeeper’: I refused to see him.

Right now, the unions hate some amendments to the ABCC and the bosses hate others. We must have got something right.

Senator Derryn Hinch

I’ve hosted live TV shows, anchored the Hawke-Peacock election coverage from Canberra, in a marathon seven-hour cliffhanger, and edited a metropolitan newspaper with crunch deadlines, but, as I said, that was the most pressure-packed week in my entire life.

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey